A programme manager colleague once told me about the report he created to keep his programme board up to date with progress. It was a room. On the walls of the room were all kinds of charts and pictures which collectively told the story of the work in progress. It showed the context, the high level milestones, current progress and deliveries, and much more. If anyone wanted to know how things were going he would walk them round the room, telling the story, and of course answering any questions they might have.
Although it was difficult to get initial buy-in for this approach, his stakeholders soon got to like it. It was engaging, but most of all it was immediate. There was no hiding behind vague wording—anyone could look him in the eye and ask a question directly. It was also a single source of truth—no different versions for different people. And it was also the source of truth for (and from) people working on the programme—they created and used the data on the walls themselves. Which meant it was also always up to date.
I am not advocating for all programme reports to be in the form of a room. But I think it shows that they don’t always need to be the Word documents that so many of us have come to expect. Agile projects and programmes also have show and tells, which are another form of progress report. They, too, are immediate, and do something no paper report can: they prove what they’re claiming.
If we can stop occasionally to remember what outcomes we want from something, and be open to solutions, then we might be able to come up with something original.